AT&T and Time Warner will head to court on March 19 to fight against the Justice Department’s attempt to block the companies’ proposed $85 billion merger.
The antitrust trial date was set by a judge in Washington at a Thursday pre-trial hearing, Reuters reported.
The March date is after AT&T’s requested start date of Feb. 20, but before the DOJ’s desired date of May 7.
It also falls before the April 22 deadline in the companies’ merger agreement, but Judge Richard Leon indicated a decision isn’t likely to be ready by then, according to Reuters.
“April 22 is not realistic,” he said, pointing instead to a late April or May ruling.
AT&T and Time Warner first announced the deal back in October 2016, and managed to secure regulatory approval from the Chilean, Mexican, and Brazilian governments, but were hit with an antitrust lawsuit from the DOJ in late November.
The Justice Department claimed the deal could harm American consumers and hinder competition. It also said the merger could allow AT&T to use its control over Time Warner’s popular networks, like HBO, CNN, and TBS, to force rivals to pay hundreds of millions of dollars more per year for distribution rights.
AT&T, which is the No. 2 U.S. wireless operator and also owns DirecTV, called the lawsuit “a radical and inexplicable departure from decades of antitrust precedent.”
After reports began circulating that the DOJ might take action to block the deal, Wells Fargo Senior Analyst Jennifer Fritzche noted that nothing about the law or precedent for the DOJ to approve vertical mergers had changed, and the department would still “face the same uphill battle in court if it sued to stop it.”
In court filings AT&T has asserted the transaction is “pro-competitive” and “pro-consumer,” saying it’s a “classic vertical deal” and would not eliminate any competitors from the marketplace.
The telecom giant also said in a court filing that Time Warner’s Turner unit had already offered distributors agreements that forbid Turner programming from going dark during any potential arbitration over licensing terms for seven years after the deal closes.
Filed Under: Industry regulations